Performance gains for South Devon cattle breeders

South Devon cattle breeders are grossing nearly £900 extra for performance-recorded bulls, as well as adding valuable weight to finished animals.

The breed, which has been weight recording with Breedplan since 2005, and with Signet before that, has seen considerable improvements in performance as a result.

Caroline Poultney, secretary of the South Devon Herd Book Society explains: “Since 1983, South Devon carcass weights have increased by 10kg on average, with weights at 200, 400 and 600 days up by more than 11kg.”

“Some breeders have seen a far greater improvement, and at today’s prices that makes a significant financial difference. At the same time, calving ease has been consistently well managed, with no change to gestation length, and only a small increase in birth weight.”

Analysis of society sales shows that performance recorded bulls achieved almost £900 extra on average over the past three years than non-recorded bulls, with twice as many recorded bulls going under the hammer.

Case study: David and Barbara Bowley 

David and Barbara Bowley have been performance recording since 2007, just a year after they bought their first South Devon cows. With just under 30 cows, 60 followers and two stock bulls at Westfield Farm, Earl Shilton, Leicestershire, they have already made great strides in boosting performance.

When choosing a bull Mr Bowley examines the family pedigree, and matches up the EBVs and traits to best suit his cows. “I would never use a bull with negative scores, but I wouldn’t buy a bull just on figures – I like to look at it and its progeny as well, to make sure its proven.”

He is using semen from Juniper Winston, chosen for his showing successes and length. “I’ve got some quite fleshy cows and I want to add some length to their offspring,” he says. “We’ve got our first bull calf from him now and it looks superb.”

His two stock bulls – Ridgemere Nelson, by Trevowah Joe Louis 11, and Ridgemere Mallory, by Edmeston Homer 1, are used as sweepers, with an Angus used on heifers for easy calving.

“I don’t want the heifers to get smaller, so I don’t go for exceptionally easy calving bulls for my cows, which seems to be working well.”

Mr Bowley usually sells his bulls at two years old, and is keeping most of his heifers to build the herd up to 40 head. Any that aren’t suitable for breeding are finished at 14-15 months old.

“We’re definitely getting better returns as a result of performance recording – our bull prices have doubled and growth rates are far better, too.”

Between 2007 and 2010, his heifers’ 400-day weights increased from 443kg to 479kg, with 600-day weights up from 526kg to 604kg. The herd’s Quality Beef Index has jumped from 18 to 30, with the Suckler Replacement Index up from 40 in 2009 to 43 in 2010.

As a result, the Bowleys won the EBLEX Improved Herd Award in both 2009 and 2010, and came second this year. They also sold the highest priced bull – Ridgemere Tyrone – at the South Devon Midland Club sale in May, at 6200gns.

“He is just the kind of bull I’m trying to breed,” says Mr Bowley. “By winning the EBLEX award our name is getting around now, and our bulls are selling well. When you’re choosing a bull you’re choosing your future, and EBVs are a great tool to help get it right. People know what they’re getting and I have the figures to back it up. We’ve got some cracking heifers coming on now, and I’m very pleased with the way the herd is going.”